Breyer horses donated to autistic boy after COVID-19 cancels therapeutic riding classes

Published: Apr. 30, 2020 at 1:49 PM EDT
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When the pandemic forced Lenoir City's

, (STAR), to temporarily stop its therapeutic riding sessions, it meant seven-year-old Jackson Tindell wouldn't get to ride his therapy pony, Zipper.

It also meant the autistic and non-verbal boy wouldn't be able to continue making progress in his everyday life. Through the program, he learned to communicate with his pony through touch command and how to sit up straight after years of finding it difficult to maintain his posture while at school.

"He's a lot more sure of himself. Riding on his therapy horse Zipper, from the get-go he had perfect posture. In school and stuff he never had that — he’d slouch in his chairs," his dad Randy Tindell told


Even though COVID-19 put Jackon's riding on hold, a family friend made a generous donation to make sure his love for horses continued.

Randy said, "There was a lady that I’ve known and worked with for about 20 years; she has a daughter. When they found out that Jackson wasn’t going to be able to do the star riding anymore, the lady had mentioned her daughter had a collection sitting up in the attic. We connected and got the horses and there’s four or five boxes of these horses, and these horses have to be in the neighborhood of 40 years-old. It was just great that they would share their childhood with his childhood."

Randy said one horse in the collection resembles Jackson's therapy horse at STAR. "So that is the one we’ve been working with to see if he'll start playing with it."

He said Jackson was slowly warming up to the collection and that his family was so grateful for the donation, "We’re not family but they wanted to share something that’s been a part of their family for forty years to brighten his day."

STAR Founder and Executive Director Lynn Petr said the program was hoping to reopen mid-May.

STAR offers several programs designed to help people through the healing power of horses. The therapeutic riding program serves people of all ages with varying types of special needs. It's Heroes and Horses program helps veterans with disabilities. Changing Strides caters to at-risk youth, and Minis In Motion uses miniature horses and donkeys for tours at schools and long term care facilities.

STAR was created in 1987 and is the only therapeutic riding program in East Tennessee that holds premier accreditation from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), which sets international industry standards for health and safety.

Copyright 2020 WVLT. All rights reserved.

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